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If you need a break from Earth, here's a neat free game about farming on Mars

Red Planet Farming
(Image credit: Nina Demirjian)

Last time I saw something about farming on Mars it was that movie where Matt Damon sticks potatoes in poop. In Red Planet Farming you play as the Agricultural Director of Mars, and you'll have plenty of potatoes of your own to grow.  But you'll also have spinach, corn, onions, lettuce, peppers, and lots more crops to cultivate. Starting with a small colony of five brave settlers, you'll have to grow enough food to increase the population, and even more to maintain it.

The best news: Red Planet Farming is completely free on Steam—not due to any microtransactions but because the developers, graduates of NYU Game Center, received a grant to fund their game. So the devs (Nina Demirjian, Sean Porio, Sean Park, and Noah Lee) are giving the game out for free. Can't get a better deal than free.

And you should try it, too! I've been playing it today and I'm having a nice time growing happy little crops and feeding my ever-growing collection of colonists. 

This being Mars and not Iowa, there are more challenges to overcome than just sticking some seeds in the dirt and waiting. Plants need irrigation plus protection from dust storms, radiation, and severe cold snaps, so as you plant seeds in your hexes you'll need to build upgrades to protect those crops from the elements while working within your budget. Once you've planted and protected your crops, you fast-forward a year and see how they did.

Even a successful harvest can add to the challenge, though. The more food you grow, the more colonists (and sometimes their pets) arrive from Earth with big appetites. That doesn't just mean more mouths to feed, but also that the colony itself needs to expand. A few years into my game, the colony built a school right on the hex where I'd been growing my arugula crop. You bastards! I mean... education is important. Stay in school, children of Mars. But also: you bastards!

(Image credit: Nina Demirjian)

I got my revenge when I accidentally didn't grow enough crops to feed everyone one year, and several colonists died. But then they got their revenge by building a cemetery over my spinach plot. (Bastards!) Even in death, these colonists can be a real pain and force me to make adjustments to my farm.

As you grow more crops to feed more astronauts, you'll eventually expand to different regions of Mars with new challenges to face. You'll also be approached by Mars scientists to help them with research from time to time, which is accomplished by meeting several crop-related milestones. My food helped the science team find the old Curiosity Rover, and I aided in a study about eating carbs on Mars. Basically, I'm running NASA now, thanks to my potatoes and corn. You're welcome, NASA.

(Image credit: Nina Demirjian)

As you expand you'll also unlock a couple dozen buildings to place, like solar panels, water towers, and other structures to make your farm more efficient and capable. Little news stories pop up from time to time as well, hinting at how your crop-growing is changing the planet and allowing the colony to grow. The art is charming, as heck, too.

And again, Red Planet Farming is 100% free on Steam. You should download it and get planting.

Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.